asked Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to address the causes and impact of human trafficking.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I was born and brought up in Africa, which has been ravaged by the evils of slavery. In addition to appreciating the remarkable work accomplished by William Wilberforce, I pay tribute to the historical figures General Gordon and Dr David Livingstone, who both died in Africa and did outstanding work against slavery. As a young man, I visited Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika, where Dr Livingstone met HM Stanley.
As we all know, it has been 200 years since slavery was abolished in the British Empire, but unfortunately there is a modern form of slavery—people trafficking. This is a rapidly growing scourge that affects countries and families on every continent. Many ask how and why people can be trafficked in this era. Some may be forcibly abducted and brought into the UK, but many victims put themselves or their children in the hands of traffickers to escape poverty and discrimination. This is particularly true of women and children trafficked from the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union and central and eastern Europe. They are promised well paid jobs, education and marriage. Many women believe that they will be able to send money back to their families. In reality, they often end up exploited and abused, and escape is very difficult. Traffickers often pay for the cost of their victims’ passage into the UK. Burdened with that debt and unable to secure legitimate employment, the victims are extremely vulnerable. If they refuse to submit to the traffickers’ demands or attempt to escape, they may have their passports confiscated or be subjected to intimidation, violence, torture or rape. Traffickers also make threats of violence against friends and family as a way of ensuring that their victims keep working and do not try to escape.
The Government estimate that there were roughly 4,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution in the UK at any one time in 2003. Some people believe that the number is considerably higher. The suggestion that the number of women being trafficked for prostitution in the UK is on the increase seems to be corroborated by the fact that whereas 10 years ago 85 per cent of women in brothels were UK citizens, now 85 per cent are from outside the UK. According to the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention in Vienna, human trafficking has become the fastest growing facet of organised crime. It is also incredibly lucrative.
There are numerous cases of migrant workers being trafficked into Britain and exploited. There is unfortunately a new underclass subject to deception, systematic underpayment and appalling living conditions. This is a kind of forced or bonded labour and another form of modern-day slavery. Trafficking to exploit labour involves a number of factors, including the use of deception, intimidation, removal of documents, excessive charges for accommodation and transport, exploitation of someone’s irregular immigration status or the fact that they are in debt in order to force them to work in conditions to which they do not agree. The Government need to go much further to combat the exploitation of migrant workers.
Few issues are more suited to international co-operation than dealing with human trafficking. I welcome the Government’s decision to sign the European Convention on Human Trafficking, which has yet to be ratified. At the moment, these human beings have no guaranteed protection. They are treated as illegal immigrants, deported and, in many cases, retrafficked. We need safe havens so that these people can be protected.
I was heartened to learn about the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre. It is a government co-ordinated policing initiative based in Sheffield, which acts as a research and intelligence centre and co-ordinates training. I am also pleased to note that the Metropolitan Police has set up a dedicated unit to combat human trafficking. The Government now recognise the importance of legislation to prevent trafficking. For example, the recent UK Borders Bill contains a provision for the extension of the scope of existing trafficking offences, which will implement one of the proposals in the Government’s UK action plan on the trafficking of human beings. However, I am disappointed that the opportunity has not been taken in this Bill to introduce more effective protection for the victims of trafficking.
I should like to see the law on trafficking strengthened and internationalised. I shall put further proposals forward to support the enforcement of the legislation domestically and to consider how we can better protect the victims. I have five proposals. First, experience tells us that the specialisation of police services is effective in fighting new types of crime. We need to cut off the routes of people trafficking into the UK. Therefore, a UK border police force with expertise for intercepting traffickers and victims at our borders should be established. Secondly, I should like to see immigration officials at all airports perform separate interviews for women and children travelling alone with an adult who is not a parent, guardian or husband. That may identify potential victims of trafficking.
Thirdly, support should be provided for the child and adult victims of trafficking. They should be referred to specialised services that can offer secure accommodation, information in a language that they understand, medical or psychological assistance and a means to communicate with family. This is in line with Article 6 of the UN protocol on trafficking, to which the UK is a signatory. Fourthly, we must prioritise by offering amnesty to users, so that they will come forward if they suspect people have been trafficked. This can be achieved by promoting social responsibility in the UK through public campaigns targeted at potential consumers and employers highlighting awareness of the terrible suffering caused by forced labour and prostitution.
Finally, with regard to bonded labourers, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and national minimum wage enforcement teams should be rigorous in ensuring that labourers are not mistreated. It is essential that the activities of rogue gangmasters are curbed.
In conclusion, I should like to say that in addition to remembering and appreciating the work done by William Wilberforce, General Gordon and Dr Livingstone, we must all work together to combat this modern-day form of slavery. I would appreciate the Minister’s comments on the points I have raised.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for initiating this debate because it shines a spotlight on to a pressing social and moral issue. I thank him particularly for a speech that was marked with compassion and insight, as well as being challenging for us all. In 2006, the Church of England gave evidence to the Government’s consultation on human trafficking and called for much greater assistance to be given to the victims, very much in line with what the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, is asking for. So we welcome the Government’s signing of the European convention and look forward to its ratification.
We agree with the definition of human trafficking, which is important to recognise:
“The movement of a person by coercion or deception into a situation of exploitation”.
The gruesome tragedy of the drowning of the cockle pickers in Lancashire has made us in the north-west particularly aware of the different aspects of exploitation in human trafficking. The reports of drowning Chinese people ringing their relatives in China were harrowing in the extreme. Therefore we support vigorously the Government’s three objectives: first, to prevent trafficking; secondly, to enforce the law against traffickers, and thirdly, to protect the victims. Without having had a chance to reflect in detail on the five proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, I have to say that on the face of it, we on these Benches would be very sympathetic with those things that he is calling for.
The victims that we are particularly concerned for are those who are subjected to sexual exploitation, and children. In this year, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, has said, that we are celebrating the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire, we have to acknowledge with a sense of shame that there are people here in our own country who are being subjected to harsh and brutal exploitation. We recognise that preventing human trafficking is difficult, not least because at some stage many of the victims collude with the traffickers, for they are trying to escape conditions of extreme poverty. So it is good to know that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is working in the areas of source to deter trafficking. Perhaps we may suggest from these Benches that this strategy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should be joined up with that of DfID and the NGOs, so that where appropriate, they may work together in those areas with the poor and vulnerable communities to develop the potential of the people in order to remove or minimise the risk of trafficking.
It is estimated that in 2003 up to 4,000 women were trafficked into the United Kingdom for sexual purposes. There are a number of projects providing safe places for such victims, including CHASTE, which is the Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking Across Europe. CHASTE offers safe houses for the victims of such trafficking. This provision is extremely costly and highlights the issue of how we resource the caring for such victims. We know that there are many demands on the taxpayer, but our failure to stop the trafficking brings with it a moral responsibility to care for its victims. We urge the Government to match their laudable intentions with the money to implement them.
Our major concern is for children. We welcome the global visa regulations introduced in 2006 which record children in transit and the vetting of addresses and carers for children who are applying to stay in the United Kingdom for more than 28 days. These and such measures are warmly welcomed. It is appalling to contemplate that within our own country there should be the trafficking of children at this stage in our nation’s life. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for his leadership in bringing to our attention today this deplorable social evil.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sheikh for giving us the chance to debate this important subject. I shall echo much of the excellent speeches of my noble friend and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool in my brief contribution today.
During a debate to celebrate National Women’s Day in March, I highlighted the horrific plight of women and children who are trafficked. This is a vile trade, made worse because many of those who are brought to the UK have such high hopes for a better life, with promises of good, honest work and the chance to make something of themselves and to help support their families. We know how cruelly they are deceived. Once here, their documents are confiscated and they are forced into bonded labour, including prostitution. They find it hard to escape because the people who betrayed them control and frighten them with threats.
Then there are those who are exploited by the drug barons and forced to smuggle drugs into the country, often at great risk to their health as well as to their freedom; and the children who come here because they have been sold by their families or snatched and trafficked. Thanks to a Home Office-commissioned survey, we now know that there are some 330 cases of suspected or confirmed victims of child trafficking, yet a recent article in the Guardian reports that the true scale of child trafficking is believed to be far higher, with highly sophisticated, organised criminal syndicates profiting from trafficking into this country children as young as nine months.
There cannot be a single person in this country, and in many others across the world, who has not been moved by the plight of Madeleine McCann and the complete anguish of her parents. I cannot begin to understand what the parents of children who disappear must go through. They can hope only that everything that can be done will be done to find their children and that agencies at home and abroad will co-operate as much as possible. I am pleased that we now have the UK trafficking centre in Sheffield, under the excellent leadership of Nick Kinsella and run on a multi-agency model.
My main purpose for speaking today is to highlight the plight of a group of young people who are often overlooked. It is a misconception that trafficking is just international; it can also take place within national borders. I refer to the scandal much closer to home whereby children who leave the care of the state are being trafficked internally, often drawn into sexual exploitation. These are vulnerable young people and those who violate them in this way are despicable. These children just disappear and, sadly, they do not have a devoted family to highlight their plight.
In a debate in the other place, my honourable friend Anthony Steen, who chairs the All-Party Group on the Trafficking of Women and Children, said that there were as many as 48 victims of child trafficking who went missing from the care of three local authorities last year. That is a truly shocking figure and one that we cannot ignore.
There are now as many people trafficked throughout the world as there were slaves. We must do all that we can to help these vulnerable and exploited people and children, and we must do all that we can to put the peddlers of such misery out of business.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for bringing this issue back to our attention and for making such practical proposals to the Government, which I hope will enable them to take action. This year the Government have listened to the public and the NGOs campaigning on this issue, and have finally, after long hesitation, signed the Council of Europe convention. Why they decided to do that this year I do not know; perhaps it is part of the legacy of William Wilberforce.
There is no doubt about the commitment of Ministers to tackling this evil trade. I declare an interest as a former council member of Anti-Slavery International, which has done an enormous amount over many years to bring the issue to public attention. The Government have introduced new offences for trafficking and set up the new Human Trafficking Centre, as mentioned. I understand that no prosecutions have resulted from all that, although I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. I hope that the Government will not just sign conventions and pass legislation but will actually catch the perpetrators of these crimes.
Like the right reverend Prelate, I hope that, if the Government truly believe in the protection of young trafficked women in particular, they will expand their limited programme of safe accommodation and extend the period of protection, based on the Italian model. That is especially important if, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, the number of such young people has been greatly underestimated.
The Minister knows that I would like to raise the question of migrant domestic workers, one of the groups affected by the new trafficking and immigration rules—surprisingly, however, they do not have the same public profile as others. The charity that campaigns on behalf of domestic workers, Kalayaan, is highly respected by non-governmental organisations in this field and works closely with ASI. Under the 1998 rule introduced by the Government, migrant domestic workers are issued with one-year renewable visas and can seek work with another employer—change employers—if they wish. The fact that they are not tied to one employer means that they can come forward to receive support and assistance without putting their status and livelihood at risk.
Two recent cases supplied by Kalayaan serve as illustrations. Last year the charity assisted a migrant domestic worker from India who had been raped by her employer. She was subsequently thrown out by the employer, but because of the security afforded by the 1998 rule she felt free to call the police, seek assistance and support and eventually find work with a new family. That example shows how co-operation at the right time between domestic workers, NGOs and the police under the current rules can put a stop to abusive treatment. Under the new proposals, she would not be able to contact the police without facing removal from the UK. As with many domestic workers, in her case that would mean being sent back to India with debts already incurred in moving out and obtaining a new job.
In another case, a domestic worker from the Philippines was subjected to extremely exploitative working conditions. She was expected to work an 18-hour day, with no days off, earning only $250 a month. She was also insulted and intimidated by her employers, who retained her passport—such retention happens to about 50 per cent of all employees registered with Kalayaan. She felt that her only option was to run away. Kalayaan was able to assist her, liaise with the police to get her passport back and find alternative work, but under the proposed new rules, the woman would have to endure the conditions offered, return to her country or become an illegal worker.
During the debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Hastings on slavery on 10 May, I quoted statistics collected by Kalayaan confirming that many migrant domestic workers suffer forced labour, abuse and exploitative working conditions on an almost unimaginable scale. Out of 387 workers registered during the year to March 2006, nearly one-quarter reported physical abuse and a similar number said that they were literally locked into their jobs.
It seems extraordinary that the Government still want to reverse the 1998 rule, having recently acknowledged that it has been positive in reducing abuse and exploitation. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, for instance, said in reply to my noble friend Lord Hylton on 26 March that the Government are,
“conscious that the change we brought in greatly benefited domestic workers in this situation”.—[Official Report, 26/3/07; col. 1436.]
Incidentally, I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness on her new appointment.
In her reply on 10 May, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, merely said that under the new points-based system there would not be a separate route for overseas domestic workers in private households, although she said that there would be appropriate safeguards such as the identification of cases of possible abuse to minimise the risk of subsequent exploitation. Safeguards are all very well, but a change in the law under the points system can only make matters worse, because victims of abuse who are forced to flee from their employers having been lawfully in this country will be turned overnight into illegal migrants and vulnerable to further exploitation. I urge the Government to think again about this matter, because migrant domestic workers are in a very special category. I have given the department notice of this question and sincerely hope that the Minister can give me a clearer answer than I have received hitherto.
My Lords, I apologise for not being present at the beginning of my noble friend Lord Sheikh’s speech. I congratulate him on securing this very important debate.
I start by citing two significant articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 1 says:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.
Article 4 says:
“No one should be held in slavery or servitude: slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.
This year we have marked the abolition of slavery, and today we are debating its evolution 200 years on, when it is estimated that 2.4 million people are trafficked every year, with one-half of these being children, and 27 million people in the world are enslaved. Human trafficking is a disgusting abuse of a person’s basic human rights, in which people are recruited, transferred, beaten, exploited, forced and sexually abused. These are people who are usually in vulnerable positions to begin with. Dignity is stripped and thrown away swiftly when humans are exploited in the most inhumane and cruellest of manners.
Human trafficking is a worldwide problem, and it exists on our doorstep, with gangs profiting and the number of victims increasing year after year. The sex trade is an increasing problem in the UK. Young girls, particularly from eastern Europe, are lured here with promises of employment and hopes to better their future, only to discover on arrival that their employment is prostitution. Unwittingly, they have accumulated debts running into thousands of pounds. These young women have been sold into bonded labour at £3,000 to £8,000 a time. I understand that many of these girls are sold and duped by people they know—partners and sometimes even parents.
We have recently debated the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill, brought to this House by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, as a Private Member’s Bill and then as a government Bill. I am horrified to find that, while we are fighting so hard to protect people from enslavement within our shores, our country continues to attract such vile practices. We must bring these issues to the forefront. It is an area where it is crucial to work much closer with our European partners. Action both swift and harsh must be taken so that criminal gangs know that we will show zero tolerance in this intolerant breach of human rights.
I hope that we will show leadership and place pressure on Governments outside the UK. One reads story after story of young girls and boys, some as young as five, who come here into bonded slavery from eastern Europe and south Asia. For most of them and their families, it is often a result of their low social and economic standing. To break the cycle, we must ensure that countries are assisted to develop their economies.
I am aware of the huge task that lies ahead of us as human beings to eradicate this sickening abuse. We as people—but, more importantly, the United Kingdom Government—must make faster progress on the issue. Training and more investment in investigation and the aftercare of victims in the UK should be a priority. The Poppy Project, launched in 2003, and the Human Trafficking Centre have contributed significantly to tackling the problem. However, the UNICEF website, the Amnesty International website and the hundreds of stories in the news scream out the fact that this is a growing crime against humanity and that the silent victims are suffering endlessly.
Gangmasters do not recognise borders. In human trafficking, bonded labourers are forced to hand over more than 75 per cent of their wages. They often share rooms with strangers, working up to six days a week in conditions that would be unacceptable to us all. We remember the horrendous story of the Chinese cockle pickers who died at Morecambe Bay. With my noble friend Lady Morris, I very much echo the words of my noble friend Lord Sheikh.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Sheikh on giving us an opportunity to debate this very important issue. Obviously it is a matter that is taking place underground and has not been officially tabulated, but there are various estimates of the number of people involved. One thing is clear: the number is huge. In 2005, the US State Department cautiously estimated that, worldwide, 600,000 to 800,000 people were being trafficked across international borders, that 80 per cent of those were women and that up to 50 per cent of them were minors. The United Nations has produced higher figures, and no doubt the figures have grown in the years since then. We are dealing with an enormous problem, as my noble friend Lady Morris said. We are dealing with numbers far in excess of those who were historically transported in the slave trade, the abolition of which we celebrate this year. All these cases are horrendous for the individuals concerned, and that has been illustrated by a number of contributions. As the right reverend Prelate said, the individual cases are harrowing.
My noble friend Lord Sheikh referred to the abolition 200 years ago of the slave trade. Because of that anniversary, friends of mine in the Henry Jackson Society decided to organise a conference last month on slavery which also included consideration of human trafficking. I note parenthetically that abolition of the slave trade involved more than just legislation enacted by this Parliament. The legislation was enforced over generations by the Royal Navy, which maintained patrols on both sides of Africa and vigorously intervened to bring the trade to an end. It was, to use today’s terminology, a unilateral liberal humanitarian intervention to which other countries objected, but this year we celebrate that unilateral intervention in humanitarian affairs. Would that it were possible to do something as simple today, but unfortunately the matter is much more complex than the seaborne trade. Indeed, it is the ease of travel today, the large volume of travel and the globalisation of communications which have assisted this trade and increased the number involved in it.
Reference has been made to the 2003 United Nations supplementary protocol on trafficking and to the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking. Like other noble Lords, I welcome the fact that the United Kingdom has finally signed that convention. We look forward to it being ratified. International provisions lay the basis for international interventions on the issue, but this is also a national matter. I think of the legislation introduced following the European Union framework directive on trafficking. That legislation provided for new criminal offences. I hope that the Minister will tell us what has happened regarding the enforcement of those new offences, whether any proceedings have been brought and, if so, how many. I fear that in this area, as in others, there is a temptation on the part of the Government to regard the enactment of legislation as sufficient, when what is desperately needed is its enforcement. I noted the suggestions of my noble friend Lord Sheikh on how it could be strengthened. That needs to be done. The legislative provisions are there; it is a matter of enforcing them and establishing procedures, particularly with regard to borders, to identify and intercept the people involved.
One thing that I am sure will make matters more difficult is that, with an illegal activity of this nature, which is highly profitable—the profits obtained from it are enormous—and which involves organised crime, there is a danger, if it is not the reality, that officials who should be regulating the procedures may become corrupted. I hope that the Government are taking steps to deal with that.
Although enforcement and more effective procedures are clearly important, there are other things that we should look at, because both supply and demand forces are involved. Some of the supply-side problems have been mentioned in terms of poverty, employment, gender-based discrimination, lack of urgency and, as I have just said, corruption. These issues reinforce the need for us to find ways of tackling the matter. It is no longer possible to ignore problems of this nature which take place in other countries, given the ease of modern travel and the way in which people are deceived into thinking that they have an opportunity to move somewhere to get a better life. In the long run the only solution is to improve the quality and standard of life elsewhere. That is a matter of general government policy. I only wish that more action was taken on this. I am not thinking of action by DfID. The impending failure of the Doha round and the failure to give other parts of the world the opportunity to engage in trade and to improve their quality of life and the standard of their economies represents a huge lost opportunity. It is a huge indictment of the European Union and north America that they have constantly looked to their own personal advantage in these matters and have not been prepared to move more vigorously in that respect.
Therefore, things have to be done on the supply side. One thing that can be done, which I hope is included in the measures taken by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is to put more effort into awareness campaigns in countries and regions where people are lured into travelling abroad, so that people will know and be warned about the potential hazards of trafficking. On the demand side, reference has been made to the number of people trafficked into the United Kingdom for sexual purposes. Therefore, it is appropriate to consider what can be done, if anything, to provide disincentives, means of regulation and means of giving people involved in this trade here opportunities to escape from it.
This is a huge issue that, in the few minutes available, I can do little more than touch on. It is important that we consider ways in which we can tackle both the supply and demand sides, as well as ensuring that the existing provisions and offences are effectively enforced to try to limit this horrific trade, if it is not possible to eliminate it.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, has given us a welcome opportunity to review the progress made in fighting human trafficking. The Government are to be congratulated on establishing UKHTC and the Reflex programme to combat the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation, which has been given a high priority by SOCA, and on deciding to sign the Council of Europe convention. As recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, we are putting resources into projects in source countries in the Balkans, West Africa and south-east Asia. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority are both useful initiatives, and we welcome the development of measures to ensure standardised identification procedures, referral protocols and the provision of support services for victims.
The UK action plan is a comprehensive approach to the problem, listing 62 objectives, and there is not time to go through them in detail. However, the JCWI points out that, although women form the great majority of trafficking victims, the objectives do not include any reference to gender impact analysis of the plan. That is in spite of the equality impact assessment table, which notes the requirement for gender sensitivity under several different headings. When the Minister comes to reply, perhaps he can explain that omission.
The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, mentioned the ILO’s estimate that 2.5 million people have been trafficked into forced labour. Although a large fraction of those will be in the EU, the evidence is largely anecdotal, particularly if those trafficked for sexual exploitation are excluded. The categories are not distinct, because victims of trafficking into forced labour, both children and adults, may also be sexually exploited, and, as the action plan says, the convention requires signatories to apply the same standards of protection and support to all victims.
We welcome the Government’s consideration of suspending removal action from all victims subject to immigration control and funding their support while they make up their minds about their future, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, demanded. At present, this is limited to women rescued from forced prostitution. The example given by the Government is domestic servitude, which was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. Kalayaan, the NGO which campaigns for justice for migrant domestic workers, estimates that nearly 87,000 entered the UK in this capacity over the five years ending December 2006. Only 7 per cent of those applied for an extension of leave to remain after the first six months, so there is no evidence that migrant domestic workers are abusing the immigration system as a route to settlement, as is sometimes claimed. In Kalayaan’s survey, mentioned by the noble Earl, it was found that 86 per cent were made to work more than 16 hours a day, 71 per cent were not given enough to eat and 56 per cent had no private room or space of their own.
The problem is also highlighted in a report by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on the experiences of women and children in both sex and domestic work, and combinations of the two. About 8 per cent of its sample had originally been trafficked for domestic work but had then been subject to sexual abuse. If that proportion were applied to the estimate of the 4,000 women who were trafficked for sex in 2003, it would mean that 320 domestic workers suffered sexual abuse in that year, to say nothing of other forms of exploitation.
We have heard that the Government’s answer is to grant MDWs a non-renewable six-month visa and to prohibit them from changing employers, as they could before. They will not be protected by UK employment legislation and will be more vulnerable to exploitation because, if they leave an abusive employer, they immediately lose their leave to remain in the UK. That cannot be right, nor can it be fair to penalise legitimate employers of domestic carers of children and elderly persons, who do not undermine the local labour market because native EU citizens are not available for that type of work.
In care homes, there are perennial shortages of staff, raising the temptation for exploitation. Anti-Slavery International quote the exploitation of workers from Bulgaria, who were charged £2,000 for the arrangement of their jobs, the repayment with excessive interest being deducted from their wages, leaving them in debt bondage. Now, the BIA is refusing all applications for renewal of senior carer work permits, while still pocketing the £190 non-refundable fee. Are they waiting for the Migration Impacts Forum, established in April, to advise on whether carers should be admitted as tier 3 to fill a temporary gap in the labour market, there being no category in the points-based system for long-term gaps in the low skilled labour market? The effect will be to encourage illegal immigration, and to boost the opportunities for exploiting legal migrants in care work by the use of threats, force and deception.
How are people coerced into forced labour? Anti-Slavery International says that unlike with prostitution, violence is rare, but psychological pressure and threats are used, often in combination with debt bondage and live-in accommodation with no security of tenure. The retention or withholding of documents, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, has been one method of pressuring migrant workers in the past, mentioned in the helpful literature review recently published by the Home Office. We have to criminalise the practice under Article 20 of the Council of Europe convention before we can ratify, and I wonder whether the Minister can explain why the Government did not deal with that in the UK Borders Bill, which is currently before your Lordships.
The review quotes three studies of child trafficking and anecdotal evidence from social workers of suspected cases they encountered. The authors thought the cases identified severely under-represented the actual numbers. It is reported that many children had been in the care of social services and went missing, as has been mentioned, and I wonder whether we are planning to keep a central record of these victims, as we will be obliged to do when we join the SIS II in 2010? The Home Office consultation on support for UASC, which has just finished, refers to the National Register for Unaccompanied Children, which presumably tags those who go missing and should enable a tentative assessment to be made of the circumstances. It says that we need to establish better links between social workers and immigration officials, and presumably police child protection officers at the airports. How is this work progressing and, of the 9,000 new UASC cases over the years 2004-06, how many have gone missing?
Under the global visa regulations, mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, which were introduced in February 2006, a child who is subject to entry clearance must be accompanied by a vignette on which is recorded the personal details of the child and of the person with whom they should be travelling or, in the case of an unaccompanied child, of the UK sponsor. Where there is a discrepancy, the possibility of trafficking should be flagged up, but ECPAT UK says that in practice, the BIA first look at potential breaches of the immigration rules. We need to know whether a central record is being kept of the discrepancies and the action taken to follow them up, and whether the code of practice on the carriage of minors, which was scheduled to be published in May 2007, has in fact been implemented. I hope that it contains a provision that where any suspicion of trafficking arises, the child and the adult sponsor should be interviewed separately, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, recommended.
The first line of defence against child trafficking must be overseas, with ECOs and airline liaison officers, and not at the ports of entry. I hope that the Government will not only take on board the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and others in our debate, but that we will make periodic reports to Parliament at regular intervals on the progress made with implementation of the UK action plan, and particularly with ratification of the convention, so that we can make our own contribution towards the eradication of the evil practice of human trafficking.
At the end of the debate in another place a month ago, the honourable Member, Mr Andrew Dismore, promised to return to the subject. He can be certain that we will, too.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Sheikh on bringing forward this troubling and appalling subject for debate. I have been deeply impressed by his humanity and concern since he joined your Lordships’ House, and that impression was reinforced today. In fact, I feel that we have perhaps had the most touching contributions that I have heard in a long time.
As noble Lords have said, we are celebrating this year the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom and, as my noble friend Lord Trimble said, the beginning of the remarkable crusade that followed in which the Royal Navy worked so hard over generations to sweep that evil trade from the high seas. There has been much lowering of heads and much apology; indeed, it was a shameful trade. But slavery tainted all continents and all races, and Britain played no ignoble part in its ending. If we were doing as much today in this country as that great Conservative parliamentarian William Wilberforce—and all those of all parties and none who supported him and came after him—the world would be a better place.
The tragic reality is that, as we speak and as was so graphically illustrated by my noble friend Lord Sheikh, there are probably, perhaps within less than a mile of here, people, almost certainly women, almost certainly constrained into the vile sex trade, who are victims of trafficking and who are effectively slaves. That is a blot on the modern world. It appears to be known and acknowledged, but far, far too little is done to stamp it out. To stop this traffic will require resolute action here at home and resolute and concerted action abroad. If only the leaders of the EU gave as much attention to this vile trade as they did last weekend to the push for integration, harmonisation and the creation of an EU state. To their collective shame, many of the victims of trafficking come from EU states, such as Latvia and Lithuania, as well as from countries where EU, NATO or UN forces are engaged, such as Kosovo and Albania.
It is estimated that as many as 4,000 women may be trafficked into this country alone to be exploited in prostitution. Women are overwhelmingly the victims, although, as my noble friend Lord Sheikh so graphically illustrated, we cannot neglect the existence of the scandal of forced marriages or the exploitation of gang labour in EU countries, as has come to light, tragically, in incidents such as that at Morecambe Bay, which was highlighted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool.
We all recognise that some valuable actions have been taken by the Government, and we are glad about that, but we must look for more. Will the Government accept the practical suggestion put forward by my noble friend and others on this side that there should be separate interviews at airports and ports for young women and children who are travelling with people who are not parents, guardians or close relatives? When I think of the hundreds of millions of pounds being wasted on setting up passport interviews with British citizens who want to travel abroad, or on building a vast ID card database on all UK citizens and on our children, I ask when—when, my Lords—will we have some new thinking in the Home Office that concentrates resources on areas of risk and danger, instead of covering the whole of the law-abiding population with blanket surveillance and bureaucracy? I find it little short of tragic that so much money is being wasted in this way, while aspects of trafficking are not being successfully targeted.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I ask the Minister to tell the House how many, if any, people involved in trafficking have been convicted. What has been the average sentence served? How many of those evil people have been deported? Is it not the case that a unified border police would be best placed to offer a co-ordinated line of defence to discourage trafficking, end the scandal of the sale of individuals at UK ports and airports and offer support to victims? Will aspects of the Council of Europe Convention be included in the UK Borders Bill? If not, why not? What specific results have we seen from the creation of the Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield last October? Will the Minister report on the early results of the work of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre?
What does the Minister think can be done to prevent trafficking in countries of origin? Can he tell the House how much is being spent on education and warning programmes, and in what countries? Will he tell the House if all the main source countries with visa requirements are covered by risk assessment units?
Within the UK, there should be an easily accessible helpline across the country for women who have been trafficked and those who suspect exploitation. Can the Minister say whether such a line is being set up? Finally, looking forward, what thought has been given to the impact of the Olympic Games on trafficking levels?
As my noble friend Lady Morris told us, nothing touches the heart more than the unbelievable callousness and cruelty to women and children who are trafficked, or the exploitation of the poor from underdeveloped countries for cheap labour. We can and must do more to confront these evils. In this year of Wilberforce, the whole House will surely join my noble friend Lord Sheikh in urging not just our Government but every government, and every local police force, to do more.
Once again, I thank my noble friend most sincerely for bringing this disturbing topic before us. Let us hope that his action and public debates such as the sensitive and informative one today will help to end this horrific practice.
My Lords, I join the general congratulation of the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, on bringing forward this debate on the extremely important issue of human trafficking. I congratulate all those who have taken part. Noble Lords have, as ever, surpassed themselves in dealing with the issue with great sensitivity and raising different aspects of it. I apologise in advance if I fail to answer all the questions that have been asked. I tried to make a note of most of them, but suspect that I will have to do what most Ministers do: offer to write to noble Lords and circulate answers to some of the more complex issues raised in the debate.
I take the same point of departure as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh: the commemoration this year of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. Like the noble Lord, I pay tribute to that great Conservative, Wilberforce, for his role in vigorously pursuing the abolition of the slave trade and ensuring that the Government enforced it internationally and worked to end that trade in all its aspects. I commend to the House the fantastic exhibition currently in Westminster Hall which not only details the historic violence and oppression of the slave trade, but points out the discrimination and violence faced by many in the world today as a result of human trafficking. It brings home to us the reality of what that is like, and makes alive the issue of human slavery in our times. That is why I am pleased that we have had the opportunity for this debate. The one thing on which we can all agree, which has been evident from comments, is that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said, we must look for more action, activity and things that we can do to tackle trafficking.
There can be no doubt that human trafficking is a vile trade that demeans human life. Individuals are subject to sexual and labour exploitation, and are often treated in the most barbaric way, as was said in this debate. As many noble Lords made plain, this crime respects no boundaries. The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, in particular, referred to its international nature and drew attention to some horrific international estimates of its extent. Those responsible are motivated only by the money made at the expense of human suffering.
Trafficking involves migration, normally over many country borders. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, referred to internal trafficking and made a good point. It is something that we are very concerned about, as I hope I shall demonstrate. The pattern, certainly as far as trafficking for sexual exploitation is concerned, is for trafficked persons to be moved from poorer countries of the world to feed demand in richer countries. While that is perhaps an oversimplification, it shows that trafficking is a global crime that requires a global response. As noble Lords said, vulnerable people from poorer parts of the world, especially young women and girls, are lured by the prospect of a well paid job as a domestic servant, au pair, waitress or factory worker. Upon arrival at their destination, victims are placed in conditions controlled by traffickers and exploited to earn illicit revenues.
We recognise the need to address the underlying reasons why so many people are vulnerable to exploitation, which are poverty and the most barbaric forms of social exclusion. The Department for International Development is already playing a leading role in the fight against poverty and social injustice through support for our long-term development programme, and we will continue that work. We are also working through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to support projects designed to build capacity in source and transit countries to deal with organised crime issues and to support raising awareness projects. Dealing with the problem at source is, in the end, the most effective means of cutting off the supply, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made plain. It is our intention to adopt a more proactive approach to awareness raising in vulnerable groups and communities, including publicising successful UK prosecutions of traffickers in source and transit countries.
A number of speakers in this debate recognised the threat posed to the UK by this particularly unpleasant form of organised immigration crime. We introduced tough legislation comprehensively to criminalise trafficking: the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004. Those dedicated trafficking offences carry a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment and are lifestyle offences for the purposes of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, so it can be brought to bear on those who are caught committing them. We are currently taking steps to amend the trafficking legislation in the UK Borders Bill to extend the territorial application of trafficking offences to cover acts of facilitation carried out overseas, irrespective of the nationality of the person carrying out the acts.
However, we acknowledge that putting in place legislation must be accompanied by effective and active enforcement. A number of noble Lords referred to that, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Trimble. We have seen the success of operations such as Operation Pentameter in 2006. I argue, and I am sure a number of other noble Lords would too, that we need to do more of that, and that is our intention. That operation was a national police-led operation to identify individuals trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation. It demonstrated that this crime is happening not just in big cities, but also in small towns and rural communities in the United Kingdom and that it is an ever-present problem. In just three months the operation resulted in the identification of 87 victims of trafficking, including 12 minors. It also confirmed that there is still significant work to do on this.
On 23 March of this year we published the UK National Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking. I am grateful that that was welcomed. The plan sets out an end-to-end strategy to combat trafficking, with a focus on five key areas: prevention, law enforcement and prosecutions, protection and assistance to adult victims, child trafficking, and labour exploitation. In some respects it picks up some of the points and issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, in his five-point action plan. I argue that we go further than that.
We have established the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre to improve the law enforcement response in this area and to mainstream this type of enforcement activity. The centre will support the overarching aim of moving the UK to a leading position in the prevention and investigation of trafficking. Since its launch in October, it has made great strides towards becoming a central point for the development of expertise and operational co-ordination.
On the same day that we launched our action plan, the Home Secretary signed the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Tackling Trafficking in Human Beings. I know we received some criticism for the delay on that, but there were good reasons. We are now investigating how best to implement the articles in the convention, with the aim of being in a position to ratify it as soon as practical. Our decision to sign the convention allows us to build on existing measures, such as our support for the Poppy Project, and to move from our current supportive approach to a more human rights focused strategy.
Although developing the necessary robust and effective system that incorporates the full range of provisions will take some time, we recognise fully the need to continue developing protection and assistance for victims in the interim—a matter about which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is particularly concerned. Accordingly, our approach to assistance for victims focuses on three main areas: improving identification and referral procedures, including the development of a national referral mechanism; enhancing the support available and extending the rights for adult victims; and assisting the reintegration and resettlement of victims to reduce the opportunity for retrafficking.
We set out in the action plan that we want to ensure that frontline staff have the right tools and expertise to identify victims and to offer them protection and support, and we will develop a national referral mechanism with a clear point of contact for initial identification. Many of the interventions already in existence for adult trafficking apply equally and in similar terms to the trafficking of children, especially for prevention and law enforcement. However, the measures to ensure that child victims are safeguarded and protected are markedly different. To this end we intend to introduce measures to ensure that frontline staff, including the health service, education and social work professionals, have the right tools to deal with this particular area. We shall act in partnership with carriers, reduce demand for trafficked children within the UK and develop a new e-learning tool and training programme on safeguarding child victims to complement the best practice guidance.
However, none of our plans for action in the UK will have the greatest impact without a consideration of the international dimension. We are committed to improving exchange of information with international partners to ensure that we have a full strategic picture of the problem. A project recently run under the auspices of the UKHTC and the International Organization for Migration in Bulgaria and Romania, as well as meeting its immediate awareness-raising objectives, has allowed further development of closer relations between the three countries. In this respect, the UKHTC, which is already engaged with a number of international partners, complements the work of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. We will continue to co-operate with all international partners in taking forward the opportunity for joint working.
The UK has achieved much. There is still much to do if we are to get the best possible balance to achieve an overall policy grounded on human rights standards.
I was asked to comment on the position of overseas domestic workers. I intend to address that fully in correspondence with the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.
I was also asked in particular about enforcement activity. I can tell the House that we have carried out 69 successful convictions, but I am prepared in correspondence to provide some more background detail. I also wanted to pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about the importance of dealing with internal trafficking. We are strengthening our guidance to social care agencies and local authorities and are working very carefully with the LGA. To pick up the point about children entering the UK, made in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, immigration officers at ports now have guidance on how to recognise those who show signs of vulnerability and distress. That is a very important aspect of the noble Lord’s five-point plan.
I do not want to dwell on the issue of border security enforcement activity, but the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, made about immigration controls and ID cards are well understood. We think that the ID card system will help rather than hinder us with enforcement and that, in the long term, that investment will pay dividends.
I should like to spend longer on this and give the House a fuller response from the Dispatch Box, but time is my enemy, so I should like to respond to some of the threads that I have not picked up in correspondence. I am grateful to all of those who have participated in the debate because the care and concern focused around it is very important, not least this year, when we celebrate the anniversary of the abolition of slavery. We need to do more on this; we recognise that.